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http://www.news-press.com/sports/today/020803spurrier.html

NFL world awaits Spurrier’s debut

Coach to test Fun ’ N’ Gun in land of the rising sun

The Associated Press

OSAKA, Japan — More than 6,000 miles from the Florida swamps, Steve Spurrier will call his first plays in an NFL game.

Amid more hype than exhibition games are usually worth, the Fun ’N Gun coach with the $25 million contract debuts with the Washington Redskins against the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday (Saturday night EDT) in the American Bowl.

“It will be interesting to see what he can do at the NFL level,” 49ers quarterback Jeff Garcia said. “I don’t think he’ll hold anything back.”

Spurrier didn’t have exhibition games at Florida, so he’s been all over the place describing his feelings and his game plan. Overall, however, he has downplayed the game’s significance, preferring to save his real competitive juices for the season opener Sunday, Sept. 8.

“It’s kind of like a bowl game,” Spurrier said Friday after practice at the Osaka Dome. “Sometimes those bowl games don’t mean a heck of a lot in college. You keep score. There’s going to be a winner and loser.”

Spurrier said he will play everyone, try to win and throw in a trick play here or there, such as a reverse to Japanese receiver Akihito Amaya to delight the home crowd. The coach dismissed the notion of holding something back, even though the Redskins and 49ers will meet again in Week 3 of the regular season.

“No, we’re not going to line up in the ‘I’ formation, toss it right and run it up the middle,” Spurrier said. “We’re going to try to give our players a chance to make some plays.”

As usual, Spurrier is running contrary to the usual NFL line. San Francisco coach Steve Mariucci, for example, said he’s restricting his game plan because of the regular season match and will use only plays that Spurrier “has seen already — from last year’s films.”

Even if it were possible to dismiss the hype surrounding Spurrier’s debut, the game would still mean more to the Redskins than the 49ers.

With its starters essentially set for the season, the most intriguing story lines San Francisco can offer are the competitions for kicker (Jose Cortez vs. rookie Jeff Chandler, who played for Florida) and backup quarterback (Tim Rattay vs. Cade McNown vs. Brandon Doman). Garcia and the rest of the starters will be done by the end of the first quarter. TODAY'S GAME

San Francisco 49ers vs. Washington Redskins

WHEN: 10 p.m.

WHERE: Osaka, Japan

TV: (ESPN)

On Sunday, check news-press.com for results of this game.

Spurrier can only wish he were so lucky. He has a three-way battle for quarterback, a dicey offensive line and a hodgepodge of receivers with no clear leader.

Second-year quarterback Sage Rosenfels, who has never played in a regular season game, will play the first half. Danny Wuerffel, who hasn’t thrown a pass in a regular season game since 1999, will play the second half.

Shane Matthews gets the night off and will start next week at Carolina.

Of course, it won’t matter who plays quarterback if the guards can’t protect him. The Redskins will count it as a major success if any combination of Rod Jones, Kipp Vickers, Ross Tucker and Alex Sulfsted can keep the backfield clear.

Eight receivers are in the hunt for a roster spot, led by Rod Gardner and Jacquez Green, but none has looked like consistent game-breakers.

The NFL’s previous games in Japan have been played in Tokyo, but the league chose Osaka this year because of the popularity of college football in the area. The dome is actually a baseball stadium that looks on the outside like Robert F. Kennedy Stadium in Washington, D.C., with a roof and on the inside like it’s sitting under the spaceship from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”

The quality of the artificial turf concerns some players. Crews were working on the stitching on one of the seams around the first base area even as the Redskins were practicing Friday.

“It’s a lot like Philly,” said running back Stephen Davis, referring to the despised artificial surface at Philadelphia’s Veterans Stadium.

Each team has a Japanese player assigned for the game: Amaya for Washington and Masafumi Kawaguchi for San Francisco. Mariucci likes Kawaguchi so much that he asked commissioner Paul Tagliabue for a special exemption that would allow the linebacker to stay with the team through training camp. Spurrier followed with a similar request for Amaya.

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